The 750 Motor Club’s HITEK Alfa Romeo Championship paid its annual visit to Brands Hatch for the Festival Italia meeting on 13th August.
Two late entries boosted our grid to a healthy 24 cars and weather forecasts during the week prior to the event were predicting dry warm weather. That proved to be a slight exaggeration but fortunately the odd rainshower did not really affect the track surface. It looked possible, even likely, that Neil Smith’s long standing outright Indy circuit lap record of 51.113 seconds might finally be beaten with Jamie Thwaites getting very close in testing and with Barry McMahon and Ian Stapleton also looking capable of doing it, with Mike Hilton and Scott Austin in the picture too. However, with 24 cars of varying performance on such a short circuit some luck was going to be needed in getting clear laps.
The Saturday before the Sunday meeting was a test day and a number of drivers took advantage of the opportunity to play themselves in: Jamie Thwaites (going extremely well), Mike Hilton (trying out a new suspension setup with a professional driver on hand to help assess it), Tom Hill (looking to keep his class contenders at arms’ length at a circuit where they’ve run him close in the past), the duelling Twin Sparks of Toby Broome and Giles Billingsley, Barry McMahon (trying to eliminate an engine cutting out problem), Gabri Iaccarino (testing the results of recent repair work), and – last but not least – Edward Robinson (learning the circuit prior to only his second-ever race meeting).
A rain shower at 10.00 caused some nerves to jangle – except for those of Tom Hill and his supporters who were encouraging it to continue so he could try and repeat his outright win at Cadwell in the wet. However, the wind blew the clouds away and it soon stopped. Conditions for qualifying were near perfect, the only foreseeable problem being getting a clear lap through the traffic.
The battle for overall pole was breathtaking. Barry McMahon led the way initially with consecutive pole times on laps 2, 3 and 4 but then suffered a loss of power which a pit visit failed to cure and he dropped out of the race for pole as Jamie Thwaites took over in the TCR Giulietta, reeling off fastest times on laps 7, 11, 15 and finally on his 18th and final lap a time of 51.899. Was that it for pole? Well no, not quite, Ian Stapleton had other ideas. The mighty GTV6 was in the 53s for most of the session but then dropped below 52s on his 14th lap before a mighty effort on his final lap netted him the overall pole with a time of 51.785. Mike Hilton’s 4C couldn’t quite break the 52s barrier but a time of 52.396 towards the end of the session put him 3rd on the grid ahead of Barry McMahon, 4th with his early time of 52.887.
Leading V6 class driver Tom Hill was 5th overall in 54.779, just pipping his old V6 sparring partner George Osborne – now in the Modified class with his immaculate 75 – by 2/10ths of a second in 6th overall. Gabriele Iaccarino was 7th in his GT with a superb lap of 55.232 set mid session. Andy Page has quietly been moving up the running order after early season mechanical issues and a best time of 55.971 put him 8th overall in his unique Giulietta 116 turbo. Mark Skeggs was next in his GTV, recording a time of 56.179 on his final lap, the best of a whole series of consistent times in the 56s.
Power Trophy class leader Stacey Dennis was 10th quickest with a best time of 56.481, with half a second in hand over the quickest of her class rivals. Roger Evans was next in his V6 class 156 GTA but he could only complete 4 laps due to a coil failure which necessitated a return to the paddock. However, he sorted this out and would be in good shape for the first race. He had 1/10th in hand over Dave Messenger, the final runner of 4 in the V6 class who was 12th overall. Daniel Wood was having his first outing in the 164 he had recently acquired from Ron Davidson and had worked his way down into the 57s when the oil pressure plummeted and there were horrible grinding noises from the depths of the engine. A blown engine was the diagnosis and sadly that was the end of his participation in the meeting. His disappointment was assuaged somewhat when Ron assured him that the spare engine that had come with the car was in fact a full race engine so at least he had a ready made solution to the problem.
It was fabulous to have 4 Abarth Puntos in the 24 car field, all prepared and presented by Chris and Simon McFie. Alongside Chris and Simon, Luke Praoline was making a welcome return to the grid after a couple of years’ absence and newcomer Alex Dargan-Bloss completed the quartet. Chris was the quickest of the four with a time of 56.926 set mid session with Simon next on 57.640, Alex on 59.809 and Luke recording 1:03.032. As Stacey Dennis was only half a second quicker than Chris they were hoping to give her a good run for her money. The final Modified class runner was Scott Austin who was experiencing yet more engine problems. The car had run well in testing but here it was sadly up to its old tricks, refusing to run cleanly at a circuit where Scott had scored an impressive outright victory the previous year. He completed the necessary laps to qualify and returned to the paddock to tackle the problem.
The 6-car Twin Spark Cup entry was highly competitive as always. In testing the day before the event Giles Billingsley and Toby Broome had been circulating nose to tail. Giles set quickest lap on lap 2 but Toby surpassed it on lap 3, only for Giles to take it back again on lap 5 with a time of 58.182, which was when Toby set his fastest lap in the session: 58.253. So Giles hung onto pole thereafter and set fastest time of 58.089. Jo Billingsley’s 58.399 put him 3rd on the TS grid ahead of Richard Ford’s 156 (58.537). Edward Robinson was 5th in 59.401 – an excellent effort – just ahead of Adrian Norman’s 59.632 which rounded out the Twin Spark grid.
Apart from a couple of drivers experiencing mechanical/electrical problems qualifying was relatively straightforward. Our first race was anything but! On the green flag lap Giles Billingsley’s gear linkage fell apart, leaving him stranded on the track but as he was on a slope he was able to roll the car back down the hill, off the circuit and out of the way, so his quick thinking meant the start was not delayed.
As the lights went out pole sitter Jamie Thwaites moved forward a few feet and then stopped with a dead engine. We all held our breath as the whole front section of the grid was bearing down on him, some unsighted. Miraculously everybody missed the stationary Giulietta and moreover they did so without any of them hitting each other, although there were some close calls and some were delayed more than others. It was a tribute to the reactions and skill of our drivers. The chaos didn’t quite end there. Waved yellows quickly came out on the start/finish straight as the Twin Spark grid awaited its flag start. Seeing flags waving one or two drivers started, quickly followed by the rest as a moment later the Union Jack appeared in the middle of all the yellows. The Clerk of the Course took the view that they had all started on the yellows and although they shouldn’t have done it was an understandable mistake, so he asked me to speak to the drivers about it rather than imposing penalties.
The Twin Spark drivers all had a clear view of Jamie’s stricken Giulietta so were able to avoid it without difficulty; meanwhile the safety car had been deployed to enable the marshals to push the Giulietta off the circuit which they did very efficiently; so the first 2 laps were completed behind the safety car. When racing restarted on lap 3 Mike Hilton’s 4C led from Ian Stapleton, Barry McMahon, and Tom Hill, with Gabriele Iaccarino in a fine 5th place ahead of Andy Page, George Osborne, Roger Evans, Mark Skeggs, Chris McFie, Dave Messenger, Stacey Dennis, Simon McFie, Scott Austin and Alex Dargan-Bloss in that order, while Luke Praoline had dropped behind Toby Broome, the leading Twin Spark, ahead of Richard Ford, Jon Billingsley, Adrian Norman and Edward Robinson.
On lap 3 George Osborne squeezed past Andy Page to go 6th, Dave Messenger passed Chris McFie, and Richard Ford and Jon Billingsley passed Luke Praoline, the running order otherwise unchanged. It went relatively smoothly for a couple of laps. Ian Stapleton was steadily catching Mike Hilton for the lead and George Osborne passed Gabs Iaccarino to go 5th overall. The Twin Sparks were tightly bunched but there was no change in the order. It was noticeable that everyone was lapping slower than they had been in qualifying and it seemed to be the result of the strong winds as conditions were otherwise the same.
On lap 6 Mike Hilton succumbed to the pressure from Ian Stapleton as Ian surged into the lead and began to pull gradually clear. Strangely, the previously all conquering Barry McMahon was not making any impression on Mike; in fact he was falling back during laps 5 to 8. Tom Hill was holding a 5-second gap to his old adversary George Osborne and George was just about holding off the rejuvenated Andy Page in 6th.
On lap 7 came the first retirement as Roger Evans’s 156 GTA began to overheat and he returned to the paddock to check the coolant levels. A lap later Luke Praoline came into the pits to retire his Abarth as it lost oil pressure, a great shame as he had been really looking forward to racing again after a 3-year gap. In the Twin Sparks Toby Broome had passed Alex Dargan-Bloss’s Abarth to put Alex between him and the chasing pack. Behind him Richard Ford and Jon Billingsley were evenly matched and battling hard ahead of Adrian Norman and Edward Robinson, who had lost a place to Adrian on lap 1 before the safety car took over.
On lap 10 Ian Stapleton’s car began to smoke; he was shown the black and orange flag as he crossed the line at the end of lap 11 and the problem had worsened by the time he could pit. It turned out that a gearbox bung had blown out and gear oil had made significant areas of the circuit very slippery and Ian retired the GTV6 on lap 12. This left Mike Hilton in the lead but he was being extremely cautious on the slippery surface and Barry McMahon closed in and took over the lead on lap 13. On lap 11 Chris McFie’s Abarth snapped its throttle cable and retired, leaving brother Simon to try and close the gap to class leader Stacey Dennis some 10 seconds up the road. In midfield Mark Skeggs, Gabriele Iaccarino and Dave Messenger were having a good battle for 7th, Mark holding the place and driving extremely well.
In the final stages lap times had fallen right away as the drivers wrestled with the slippery surface. At the front, although Barry had taken the lead Mike Hilton was less than a second behind and when Barry ran wide on the oil at Druids on lap 20 Mike nipped through to retake the lead and pulled away to win by just under 5 seconds at the chequered flag, with Barry 2nd. The demise of Ian Stapleton had left Tom Hill an impressive 3rd overall, once again demonstrating his skill in difficult conditions and maintaining the gap to George Osborne’s 75 in 4th to around 5 seconds throughout, George having lost time at the start negotiating his way around Jamie Thwaites’s stricken Giulietta. Andy Page dropped back from George late on but still finished a fine 5th overall. Mark Skeggs finished 6th overall in his GTV after an excellent drive, followed by the V6 class cars of Gabriele Iaccarino and Dave Messenger. Power Trophy runners Stacey Dennis and Simon McFie were next, Stacey delighted to have ended her Brands jinx. The final Modified finishers from the front section of the grid were Scott Austin’s 156 turbo – struggling with the same misfire above ¼ throttle that had plagued him at Cadwell but gamely continuing – and Alex Dargan-Bloss’s Abarth, a very creitable 14th overall and 3rd in the Power Trophy class. In the Twin Spark class Toby Broome was consistently quick throughout to take his first – and much heralded – class win. Behind him Richard Ford had finally succumbed to the constant pressure from Jon Billingsley on lap 15 and then dropped back to finish 3rd in class behind Jon in second, with Adrian Norman 4th and Edward Robinson 5th with around 2 seconds between them.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
Race 2 was a bit difficult for me to follow as the Clerk of the Course decided to give me a lengthy tutorial in MSV’s in-event software during the race and I missed a large chunk of the action. So please forgive and let me know of any errors or injustices you see in this report!
Neither Jamie Thwaites nor Luke Praoline were able to start due to mechanical problems but all the others were refreshed and ready to go. As the lights went out, something happened that hadn’t happened in many years as far as I can remember – the car on the outside of the front row failed to get off the line for the second race in a row. This time it was Barry McMahon’s 156 turbo. Fortunately once again everyone else missed him and well done to all concerned for their skill and quick reactions. Barry did eventually move slowly away but retired on the opening lap with a broken CV joint shaft. Scott Austin was the next and only other retiree from the race on lap 4 with a holed piston – a huge shame as the car appeared to be running well early on – so the field was now down to 20.
At the start Mike Hilton got his customary rapid start and by the end of lap 1 had built a 1.5 second gap to the rest of the field. Second was George Osborne, having not been delayed getting around the stalled car on the line this time and just over a second ahead of Tom Hill in 3rd, and it looked like another mouth watering dice between these two was again on the cards. Andy Page was an excellent 4th, really getting his season in stride now, followed by Mark Skeggs, Scott Austin, Dave Messenger, Ian Stapleton (having had to make his way through from near the back of the grid), Gabs Iaccarino, Simon McFie, Stacey Dennis, Roger Evans, Chris McFie and Alex Dargan-Bloss in that order.
The Twin Spark start went more to plan this time around and Jon Billingsley took the lead from Toby Broome. Giles Billingsley lined up at the back of the grid but after an excellent start he had made his way up to 3rd by the end of the first lap, followed by Richard Ford, Adrian Norman and Edward Robinson. The order was the same at the end of lap 2 but bizarrely the TSL timing did not pick up Edward Robinson’s transponder at the end of lap 2 and recorded him as having completed one lap in 2 minutes at the end of lap 3 instead of 2 laps of 1 minute each, so it wrongly recorded him as being a lap down from then on and 4 laps down at the end instead of 3. Very annoying. It was very close between the 6 of them early on and it continued in that vein throughout, particularly between the front three who were all circulating at virtually the same pace and it finished in the order it had been after lap 1, Jon winning the class by just over a second from Toby. Giles was 3rd but did record the fastest lap on his 11th tour. Richard Ford dropped away gradually from the pace of these 3 but retained 4th place in class. Adrian Norman and Edward Robinson were circulating closely together in 5th and 6th when Edward noticed oil on his screen. The marshalls noticed it too along with smoke from the rear of Adrian’s car and he was flagged in. Eventually he was disqualified for a flag infringement and Edward claimed 5th place, his best lap only a second or so off the leaders.
Meanwhile in the front group Ian Stapleton was making rapid progress. He passed Gabs Iaccarino, Simon McFie and Stacey Dennis on lap 1, Dave Messenger and Scott Austin on lap 2, Andy Page and Mark Skeggs on lap 3, and the duelling George Osborne and Tom Hill on lap 4. He was now in second place, nearly 10 seconds adrift of the flying Mike Hilton in the lead up ahead. He set about reducing the gap, which he did inexorably by a second or more per lap and soon Mike could see the intimidating presence of the formidable GTV6 in his mirrors. Ian was through into the lead on lap 10 and pulled away, winning by some 16 seconds at the chequered flag.
Mike was second after another excellent drive which netted him the Driver of the Day award, and had over 40 seconds in hand over George Osborne in 3rd and Tom Hill in 4th, although George crossed the start/finish line only inches ahead of Ian and had to complete an additional lap. These two had circulated nose to tail throughout with Tom trying to find a way past, but George seemed to be able to anticipate what Tom was going to try next and to place his car in exactly the right place to prevent the overtake – classic stuff! Andy Page and Mark Skeggs were 5th and 6th respectively both driving extremely well and recording excellent results. It was very close for Mark though as Roger Evans almost caught him on the line, missing out by only 2/10ths. Roger had had to start from the back of the front section of the grid due to his retirement early in Race 1 but really got into his stride in the 156 GTA, the former double champion progressing from 14th place at the start to 7th place at the finish, with his best lap only 1/10th off class winner Tom Hill’s fastest lap, an excellent result.
V6 class runners Dave Messenger and Gabs Iaccarino were 8th and 9th overall, Gabs’s times dropping off late in the race, perhaps as an omen that mechanical trouble was imminent…. which it was as he broke a driveshaft on the final lap, just managing to finish. Behind these two, the Power Trophy class battle was being fought out. Simon McFie’s Abarth led at the end of lap 1 but Stacey passed him on lap 2 and was gradually able to build a lead during the race to win the class by 10 seconds ahead of a fantastic dice between the Abarths of Chris and Simon McFie. These two have a perfect understanding and a perfect trust in each other’s driving as they thrilled the crowd racing literally mere inches apart – great to watch! For the record, Simon beat Chris by 2/10ths at the chequered flag. Fourth in class was Alex Dargan-Bloss, really enjoying his racing and improving his quickest lap times by a full second by the end, a fine effort by him. In terms of the predicted breaking of lap records these never quite materialised; the track conditions were never quite ‘there’ in the end, with strong winds and a slightly greasy surface. However, Stacey Dennis did establish the lap record for the ‘new’ Power Trophy with an excellent time of 56.481 in the first race.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
We now move on to Donington Park GP circuit on the 23/24 September for a 2-day double header. Don’t miss it!!